A 23-year-old mum has shared the details of her son’s battle with sepsis, after he lost all four limbs and doctors said he might not survive.
Abigail Wardle’s son, Oliver, was 11 months old when an undiagnosed throat infection turned to life-threatening sepsis within 48 hours, stunning doctors and terrifying Abigail.
Now, Abigail is sharing Oliver’s story in the hope it will help other parents spot the signs of sepsis, which can be deadly.
Abigail first noticed something wasn’t right with Oliver in March this year, noticing one of his soft spots appeared to be sunken, so she took him to an out of hours GP. She was told to give the toddler fluids and Calpol, but the next day he had deteriorated.
Oliver had seemed a bit under the weather. But that night, he got more ill and seemed lifeless. When I moved him, it was as though his bones were aching. He quickly became very pale and lethargic and just wasn’t his usual self.
I would cuddle him and he was groaning as though his bones were aching. He eventually stopped crying and was just whimpering, as though he didn’t have the energy to cry.
Abigail would take Oliver back to the out of hours medical facility as his condition worsened:
I knew he was not well and he needed to see a doctor but I didn’t have a clue that he could have had sepsis.
My gut said he wasn’t right so I took him back to the out of hours GP and within minutes, a nurse had whisked him off and he was being put under anaesthetic.
Everything was a blur. I still had no idea what was wrong with Oliver, I was just trying to hold it together as they were putting him to sleep. I could hear a doctor on the phone to another hospital asking how to treat Oliver. His hand and feet had started to go purple, and I just remember thinking he must be cold and telling them to put some socks on him.
The doctors discovered it was sepsis, which had developed from a throat infection Oliver had never shown any signs of. They managed to stabilise the toddler, but warned Abigail if he deteriorated they might not be able to save him.
Abigail detailed her realisation of the severity of her son’s condition:
A doctor sat us down and said: ‘Your son is very poorly’, I just thought, I know that, he’s in a coma and hooked up to a load of machines, but I had no idea how ill he was.
It was only when a nurse came over to speak to us and burst into tears that I realised how serious is was.
Thankfully, Oliver pulled through and survived with no damage to his brain. Unfortunately, however, the sepsis had damaged his limbs, effectively causing the tissue in his hands and feet to die.
Medics tried to save length in one of the toddler’s legs, but Abigail could see the leg starting to self-amputate, and begged doctors to speed the process along. Self-amputation, or auto-amputation, occurs when the blood supply to a limb becomes so low the tissue dies.
Oliver was out of the woods but they kept delaying a date for his amputations to try to save more of his leg – but I could see his body was trying to get rid of it.
The limbs were heavy and uncomfortable – Oliver was miserable, I know it sounds like an odd thing for a mother to say but I was desperate for them to take them off.
One day, a nurse was helping me lift Oliver from his bouncy chair back into the bed, and his leg just came away.
The doctors came running in and asked me if I wanted to leave the room because it was quite distressing. I told them: ‘My son’s leg has just fallen off and is hanging on by a thread, I am not going to leave him here.’
Amazingly, once Oliver’s leg had been removed, he was ‘so happy and full of life’, with mum Abigail saying: ‘it seemed like a relief for him’.
Oliver was discharged from hospital in July, and is now recovering well and getting used to life without his hands and feet.
Despite the traumatic events Abigail remains optimistic, and confirmed Oliver is doing well in the aftermath:
I am just so proud of Oliver. He has taken everything in his stride and is just so incredibly resilient. He makes me smile every day.
I want his story to be used to help spread awareness and teach other parents and GPs who maybe don’t have specialist paediatric training, about the signs of sepsis.
I had no idea how ill Oliver was but if he hadn’t gone into hospital when he did, he wouldn’t be here.
Some people might feel sorry for us but I feel like the luckiest mum in the world – I still have Oliver with us – he might not have any hands or feet but he is still my smiley, brave little boy.
You can read more about sepsis and its symptoms here.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.